Sanctions on Iran are beginning to bite, but does it matter?

Only three cargoes of gasoline have reached Iran so far in July, according to a shipping document seen by Reuters, much less than the seasonal norm, as new sanctions divert ships carrying fuel. Traditionally during the summer holiday driving season, Iran needs 11-13 cargoes a month, a Dubai-based trader told Reuters.

Carbon-resource rich Iran depends heavily on imports because its domestic refining capacity can supply only around 60 percent of its domestic gasoline needs.

A severe gasoline shortage will certainly have an impact on Iranian society, but will it bring a halt to the Iranian nuclear program, or will only a military strike by the U.S. or Israel accomplish that?

Obviously, no one can know the answer in advance, but the question may hinge in no small part on how much time Iran needs before it goes nuclear. If the date is three to five years out, serious sanctions might have time to work their will. If the date is as little as a year away, as some intelligence reports suggest, the mullahs will almost surely be able to press ahead.

The uncertainty places a premium on gaining accurate intelligence about the status of Iran’s nuclear program. But that’s not something the U.S. has done well, to say the least. The tough new sanctions in place are unquestionably a good thing, and potentially very important if gasoline becomes scarce in Iran. But it would be dangerous in the extreme to rest on our laurels and assume that Iran will be diverted from a course that poses dangers to the region and the entire world.